Bringing Vibrancy to the Efforts in Yoshida Village of a Strawberry Farmer to Make His Dreams a Reality

Shimotsuke, Tochigi Prefecture
(Month information was collected: January 2024)
Sweet and tangy strawberries, which are in season from winter to spring, are a beloved fruit for all ages and genders. Tochigi Prefecture, known for being the top producer of strawberries, once had a village named Yoshida. It was in the past a thriving hub for strawberry cultivation and other agricultural activities, but in recent years the area has become quiet as young people have left. We visited a strawberry farmer who is working towards revitalizing the area.

Ripe strawberries with unforgettable sweetness


The city of Shimotsuke is located in central southern Tochigi Prefecture, north of the Kanto Plain. It was formed in 2006 by merging the towns of Mimamikawachi, Ishibashi, and Kokubunji. The Kinu and Tagawa Rivers flow to the east of the city, while the Omoi and Sugata Rivers flow to the west. The land has remained relatively flat since ancient times, with little variation in elevation. Its climate, with long daylight hours and marked temperature fluctuations, is said to be ideal for growing strawberries.


The Izawa Ichigoen we visited grows strawberries using two methods: “raised bed cultivation,” in which strawberries are grown in a solution without using soil for ease of work, and traditional “soil cultivation,” in which strawberries are grown with soil, water, and fertilizers. “Raised bed cultivation” is more efficient, but “soil cultivation” is more productive and produces tastier strawberries because the minerals in the soil can be utilized.


Two varieties of strawberries, Tochi Aika and Sky Berry, were being cultivated in a greenhouse with strict climate control. Tochi Aika is a new variety created about four years ago. It has a well-balanced sweetness and tanginess unique to strawberries and keeps well due to its large size and firm flesh. Sky Berry is a large, cone-shaped, premium strawberry that is often chosen as a gift. It tastes lighter and juicier than Tochi Aika.


As strawberries bear fruit in May, seedlings for the next season are planted at the same time. When seedlings are planted high up, their thin stems, called “runners,” grow quickly and form what looks like a wall of strawberries. Many seedlings are formed in mid-air, then are cut and planted. Fruits appear around November.

The strawberries that are sent to the market are intentionally not fully ripe and still have green tops. This is done to ensure that the strawberries do not become overripe before they are sold. Although the berries change color, their sweetness remains the same as when they were harvested. This means that strawberries that are allowed to ripen fully in the greenhouse and not picked for shipping are much sweeter than those that are picked.


Atsuhiko Izawa, the representative of the farm, has stated that visitors who come to experience harvesting at their farm are delighted when urged to try the red strawberries. They often say that they have never tasted anything so sweet. According to Izawa, people from Ibaraki have visited their farm repeatedly and claimed that they cannot eat strawberries from other places. Some of them have even visited their farm more than 10 times.

When sent to agricultural cooperatives, the farm’s strawberries are treated as substandard despite being unforgettably sweet and ripe since they will become overripe at the time of sale. Izawa Ichigoen launched its gelato business exclusively using peak strawberries.

When in season, strawberry gelato made with the finest ingredients can be enjoyed.


A native of Shimotsuke, Izawa worked as an advertising designer and art director in Tokyo. When his father, a strawberry farmer, decided to start a gelato business, Izawa returned home and opened GELATERIA Izawa Ichigoen at the Shimotsuke roadside rest stop in 2011.

Izawa explains, “We prioritize the quality of our ingredients, which is why we pay close attention to even the smallest details. For instance, if we use regular granulated sugar, its intense sweetness tends to overpower all other flavors. That’s why we opt for beet sugar, which is commonly used in wagashi, as well as honey and other natural sweeteners. We also exclusively use pasteurized milk from Senbonmatsu Farm in Nasu.”


The Strawberry Sorbet is a refreshing dessert that captures the natural sweetness of strawberries, including their pits. Fresh Strawberry Milk is created by mashing fresh strawberries picked in the morning and blending them with the shop’s signature milk gelato. Both gelatos are indulgent and can only be enjoyed during strawberry season. They are made with strawberries that are grown with great care, and Izawa hopes to convey that care through their processing.

Izawa is actively working in Shimotsuke today, but he left the town because he felt it did not offer much.

“There was nothing here. I don’t think I would have left if there was something to keep me fulfilled. So, I created places where I could find everything I need to live out my life here,” says Izawa.


Izawa’s desire to make a difference extends beyond his gelato business. In 2014, he opened an Italian restaurant and organized the Yoshida Village Festival. The festival brought together eateries and market stall holders from within and outside the prefecture, offering visitors a one-stop marketplace for everything they needed. Then in 2021, he created Yoshidamura Village on the former site of an agricultural cooperative, where it feels like the Yoshida Village Festival is happening every day.

Wanting to create something to be proud of in a town with nothing to offer


Yoshidamura Village is a facility centered around agriculture and food. It includes a bakery, florist, and hotel, as well as a network of local farmers selling produce, ready-made side dishes, and selected processed goods.


An 80-year-old stone warehouse, originally used for storing rice by an agricultural cooperative, has been repurposed as the building. The space that had been subdivided into three has been combined to make one space. Izawa explained that in the past, there were as many stone storehouses as there were agricultural cooperatives. Most of them have been demolished, but fortunately, this area used to be farmland and was within an urbanization control zone. As a result, it has remained undeveloped.

Izawa says, “There was no activity in the area, but since there was agriculture present, I decided to use it and food as a means of reviving the area. Back in the day, this area was called Yoshida Village, so I purposely used the old name. To gather people, you need a place. I started by creating a restaurant as a gathering place. From there, I expanded to hosting a festival and developed a vision for what I hoped to achieve through the festival.”

The Yoshida Village Festival is a highly successful event that attracts more than 5,000 visitors from both inside and outside of the prefecture, and Yoshidamura Village has been recognized for its activities and was awarded the Marronnier Architectural Award in 2022.

“I can do anything,” says the ingenious Izawa, hoping that both city-weary people and influential individuals would flock to this town.


“I created something I wanted to exist. I created it because I wanted a place like this, but in truth, I want to be the customer. I want to attract people who are interested in doing business in the market I created. That would attract more interesting people to town. It’s great when a chain reaction occurs.”

Izawa’s efforts to create something the local people can be proud of in a town that had nothing to offer will continue to expand.


Izawa Ichigoen/Gelato&Caffe Izawa Ichigoen


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